Simplicity is the shortest path to a solution. –Ward Cunningham
In our work with FIRST robotics team students, we often remind them of the KISS philosophy – Keep it Simple Silly! – encouraging them to look for simple, elegant solutions to their game challenges. It’s easy for kids (and adults) to over-engineer solutions to problems. But taking the most direct route to address challenges often yields the most powerful and enduring results.
Recently, we learned about Lucky Iron Fish, and were treated to a fresh and inspiring reminder of the power of simple solutions. Lucky Iron Fish™ is a social entrepreneurship organization using an extremely simple health innovation to alleviate iron deficiency and related anemia in Cambodia, particularly among women and children. Iron deficiency affects over two billion people, reducing their capacity to work, learn and fight off illness.
Researcher Christopher Charles, PhD, was tasked with finding a way to address the problem and realized the easiest solution was to introduce iron blocks into cooking pots, where the iron would be picked up in cooked foods. Villagers, however, were understandably reluctant to put an industrial looking chunk of metal into a pot with their food. Applying a little cultural sensitivity that recognized the fish as a symbol of luck and well being resulted in a fish shaped piece of iron that has been readily accepted by residents.
According to the Lucky Iron Fish organization, ” Using the Lucky Iron Fish™ every day preparing food or sterilizing water, halves the incidence of clinical anemia and increases circulating and stored iron. The fish can be made from scrap metal by local metal workers, so could stimulate small businesses across Cambodia to produce and distribute the fish. In addition, there is an opportunity to develop businesses that will ensure quality control of the product.”
The results of this simple solution to addressing iron deficiency in Cambodian communities where it’s been used are stunning:
- Within 6 months women report feeling better with a greater capacity to work
- By 9 months there is a dramatic and sustained increase in circulating levels of iron in the blood and iron stores in the body
- By 9 months the incidence of clinical anemia is halved
Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser found a similarly simple way to bring light to the small dark shacks of poor people in rural communities across Brazil, using principals of simple refraction and water filled plastic bottles. On a bright sunny day, “Moser Lamp” can provide 40-60 watts of light per bottle. Through the Liter of Light Foundation, Moser’s Lamp has brought light to mover a million people worldwide.
This week, another simple solution made headlines: a solar powered charging and internet station transported by donkey to remote communities in Turkey.
Take Part reports, “Solar panel company Ser-Gün teamed up with a local sheepherding association to produce the Plug-and-Play Solar Pack. The panels it contains can generate as much as seven kilowatts of electricity, which can power and tether (to connect a mobile phone to a device for Internet access) cell phones and laptops. Herders can also use them to power extra lights that come in handy during their long journeys.”
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” a quote variously attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and to Apple computer, is in elegant abundance in all of these life changing solutions, and a truism we would do well to remember in dealing with the everyday challenges we face right here at home.
Encouraging the DIY spirit of innovation makes all of us the empowered architects of our own future.